xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: June 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So What's Keeping You?

June 24, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

You may not recognize the name Freeborn Garrettson, unless you were a Methodist living in 18th century America.  Born in Maryland, Garretson became an itinerant Methodist preacher in 1775 at the age of 23.  As conflict brewed in the American colonies with Mother England during the early days of the Revolutionary War, Garrettson developed both a strong pacifist and anti-slavery stance, for which he would ultimately be persecuted.  Serving primarily in the New York state area, Garretson would eventually become one of the most important presiding elders of the early Methodist Episcopal Church.

But his story almost didn’t unfold that way.  Garrettson did his best to avoid Methodist church meetings early in his life, as he was fiercely loyal to his roots in the Church of England.  But eventually he tired of worship services in which “we had a smooth, moral sermon read, which did not disturb the consciences of any.”  His experiences in a few Methodist church meetings were quite different, in which he noted how “the law was thundered down on the hearers and the plan of salvation pointed out.”  Nevertheless, Garretson continued to prefer a comfortable faith, which was neither threatened or threatening.    

This would eventually change.  On one occasion, he met a man he described as a “zealous Methodist exhorter” who asked Garretson if he was born again.  He told him that he hoped that he was.  
    “Do you know that your sins are forgiven?” the man asked Garretson.
    “I do not,” he responded, “neither do I believe that there is such a knowledge to be had in this world.”

This conversation would continue to haunt Garretson until a moment when he experienced an internally audible voice from God, saying to him, “I have come once more to make you an offer of salvation and it is the last time.  Choose or refuse.”

Garretson describes his response:

I verily did believe that, if I rejected that offer, mercy would be clean gone forever.  Heaven and hell were disclosed to my interior eye, and life and death were set before me.  I was surrounded as it were by a divine power and shaken over hell.  I saw clearly that pride and unbelief had kept me from God.  It was like giving up the ghost.  I was perfectly reconciled with the justice of God for I never could before now be reconciled to that attribute.  I threw down my bridle on my horse's neck and lifted my hands and eyes to heaven and cried out, "Lord, I submit, make me as thou wouldest have me to be."  I know the moment when every false prop was taken away, and I reconciled to be the plan of salvation by Jesus Christ.  I could look up and see by an eye of faith the great Jehovah reconciled through Jesus Christ to my poor soul.  This power was attended with peace and joy in so much that I seemed to be all taken up with Jesus, and although all alone in a solitary mood, in the dead time of night, I could but lift up my voice and praise God aloud so that I might have been heard a far off.  Now it was that I saw the way of salvation and knew that my sins were forgiven.  
                (from a piece by Freeborn Garrettson titled, “A Short Account of my Life till I was Justified by Faith.”)

Freeborn Garretson had become a changed man.  After many years of growing up with a version of the Christian faith that was lax and neutral,  he came to realize that a deeply radical commitment of Christ demanded a full confession of his sins and an ongoing desire to follow Jesus with his whole being.  As soon as he came to that realization, he lifted his life in praise to God.  And as a result, the Methodist renewal movement gained a powerful voice.

Such conversion experiences are not uncommon in the Bible or in the history of the church.  Sadly, and strangely, they seem to be rare today.  What seems to prevent people from opening themselves with this kind of humility to a God who yearns to love and forgive them?

And to put it more personally, what is preventing you from acknowledging those barriers that are preventing the free flow of God’s grace and love from flowing through you?


Maybe we need a lesson from the life of King David.   He was the shepherd boy who enjoyed a meteoric rise to power, leading the nation of Israel to its greatest levels of political, economic, and military achievement.  He was a man who had it all, including a passionate desire to pursue the will and interest of God in his life.   

But he was still human, and he was prone to sinful mistakes.  After a dalliance with a woman that would ultimately lead to adultery, deception, murder, and cover-up, David’s sin was found out.  Like Freeborn Garretson, he needed a new heart.  A clean heart.  

Psalm 51 is David’s confession to God, and contains some of the most emotionally raw and soul-wrenching words in the entire Bible.  By the end, David was a changed man.  He had come clean before God and was ready to experience the life-transforming power of God’s grace and forgiveness in his life.

This Sunday we continue our “Songs for the Soul” sermon series on the Psalms with an example from the greatest psalmist who ever lived.  We invite you to come this Sunday as we explore his “Song of Confession” and come to experience for yourself what it means to be “perfectly reconciled with the justice of God.”

See you Sunday!



Psalm 51:1-12
1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4  Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgement.
5  Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6  You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Power to Be Brave

June 17, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Last Wednesday morning at Vacation Bible School, the Bible point for the day was, “Jesus gives us the power to be brave!”

Throughout the day the kids learned the story of how Peter kept his focus on Jesus in the midst of the storm and defied the odds by walking on water.  After reading the story in the Bible, they acted it out in a makeshift boat, and then - thanks to a nifty trick with a tub of water and fifty pounds of corn starch – got to walk on water themselves!  One teacher said that the kids were so caught in the suspense of the story that they as they took turns stepping out of the boat and into the storm, there was stunned silence.  Somehow, the kids recognized the importance of this lesson.  

They were right.

The application of the story would come a few hours later, as tornado sirens blared across Cherokee and residents huddled in their basements.  As the massive storm front headed our way, and visible cloud circulation hovered above us, we were like the disciples in the boat all over again.  And at evening’s end, when the storms passed over us without a single touch down in our immediate area, we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  

The next morning, as I was walking into the church,  two kids rode up on their bikes ready for VBS Day 4.  “Pastor Magrey!” one of them shouted.  “Did you hear the sirens last night?”  “I did,” I said, hoping they wouldn’t ask me if I was scared.  I didn’t want to have to lie.    

The other boy quickly jumped in.  “I heard them, too, but I wasn’t scared.  Jesus gives me the power to be brave!”

It was a sentiment echoed consistently throughout the morning.  From the youngest to the oldest, kids were saying that they remembered Peter and the storm, and remembered to keep their focus on the One who could silence their storms of fear and panic.  


It was not the only lesson the kids learned last week.  Upon hearing the story of Jesus healing the man born blind, the children learned another important VBS Bible point:  “Jesus gives us the power to help others!”

And did these children ever learn this lesson well.  As we watched news reports of waters rising in Cedar Rapids and much of Central and Eastern Iowa, and as the children remembered the kids who lost everything from tornadoes in Parkersburg, IA just weeks ago, the kids responded.  They broke open their piggy banks and cobbled together their nickels and quarters.  They did extra chores for money and searched high and low for loose change.  (From the stories I’ve heard from parents throughout the week, I have a strong suspicion that Methodist homes in Cherokee now have the cleanest sofa cushions in town!)  And by the end of the week,
your children collected over $400.00 for storm relief that will go directly to the devastated families in Iowa!

What’s more, you helped the kids learn an even bigger lesson last Sunday:  when they give, it inspires others to do the same.  From their example, you responded to my challenge of matching their gifts with a remarkable contribution of over $900.00!

This week,
we will be sending over $1,300 to disaster relief in the Iowa Conference, thanks to this Jesus, who gives us the power to help others!


As we pray for waters to abate throughout the state, God is calling us to respond with our time and energy, as well as our financial assistance.  On Monday, clergy across the Conference received the first request for volunteer teams to serve immediately in relief and recovery efforts, specifically in the Cedar Rapids area.  Some of you have already expressed an interest in helping.

If you would like to offer your assistance and spend a day or a weekend giving your time and energy, please contact the church office.  We will determine the soonest possible time frame to go, and likely do so in partnership with surrounding churches.  If you are unable to go, we will soon be letting the congregation know of items most needed in those devastated areas, and you will be able to bring your donations to the church.

For the latest Conference updates on storm relief, visit www.iaumc.org.  And for more information about teams serving in the Cedar Rapids area, visit www.fumcmarion.org.

There is no better time to celebrate and utilize the blessings of the United Methodist connectional system.  Together, let us serve this Jesus, who “gives us the power to help others!”

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955


Last Sunday we concluded our five-part series on the heritage, doctrine, practice, and mission of the United Methodist Church.  I am grateful for the many small groups that have formed and for the many who are following our “Month of Living Wesleyan” guidebook.  Following Wesley’s command to observe communion constantly, join us for a 30-minute communion service in the prayer chapel Wednesday morning at 8am.  

Given the many requests for audio copies of the sermons from this series, we are making them available to you in a number of ways:

    1)  You can purchase all 5 sermons on CD from the church office for $10.
    2)  Borrow a set of the sermons from the church library.
    3)  Download .mp3’s of the sermons for free from our blogsite at blog.cherokeespumc.org or through our iTunes podcast.


Join us this Sunday for the start of a new series based on the Bible’s most deeply personal and genuinely human books.  The Psalms have served as a comfort and a challenge to countless Christians over the generations, and you will not want to miss the inspiring messages of these “Songs from the Soul.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prepare for Impact

June 10, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Dr. Paul Chilcote, Visiting Professor of the Practice of Evangelism at Duke Divinity School, has suggested that John Wesley actually had two conversion experiences.  The first is the more notable one, commonly labeled Wesley’s “Aldersgate Experience.”  Plagued by doubt and a need for an assurance of his own salvation, Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” by a reading of Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. He understood for the first time, at a deep, intellectual level, how his salvation came by God’s grace alone.  Chilcote names this first conversion of Wesley as one that led to Wesley’s “passion for the truth.”
Years later, Wesley’s second conversion took place as he was walking through the inner city streets of London.  Here he witnessed the shadowy underbelly of poverty and disease.  He saw the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, and the oppressed with a clarity that he had not seen before.  He came to understand the call of the gospel not only to minister to the souls of people, but to their physical needs as well.  From that point on, Wesley emphasized service and social justice in his public ministry.  Chilcote names this second, lesser known conversion as one that led to Wesley’s “compassion for people.”
Wesley’s ability to hold in creative balance a “passion for the truth” and a “compassion for people” and forge a
via media for public life and ministry is now a hallmark of the Wesleyan way of living.  We look at the world with stereoscopic glasses, seeing needs that affect both the soul and the body.  We care about how people will spend eternity with God, and we care just as much about God’s life is revealed in them here and now on earth.
And what a way the United Methodist church embodies that commitment to mission today!
  • Partnering with other relief agencies around the world, your United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been able to serve the 1.3 million people affected by the devastating cyclones in Myanmar.
  • Within five hours of the terrible earthquake in the Sichuan Province of China on May 12, UMCOR, in partnership with the Amity Foundation, was on the scene doing an initial assessment of damage and beginning immediate relief efforts.  
  • Over $200,000 has been given by Iowa United Methodists to Nothing But Nets, a denomination wide project to alleviate malaria in African countries.
  • St. Paul’s UMC was awarded a second-mile giving designation for its part in the Iowa Annual Conference Rainbow Covenant Missions Program, the highest level of giving ever at St. Paul’s.  
  • And, perhaps most exciting of all, the children of St. Paul’s are raising money all this week during Vacation Bible School to help the children devastated by the tornadoes in Parkersburg, IA.  We can’t wait to share with you this Sunday the results of their spirited, generous efforts!


This Sunday, we conclude our five-part series on “What is a Methodist?” with a celebration of the impact United Methodists are making all around the world.  As we learned in last week’s sermon on the connectional system, you are part of a global movement that is building the kingdom of God around the world, providing hope and opportunity to people, one life at a time.  This is a great time to be the church, and an important time to be United Methodist.  
Together, let us impact the world with a passion for truth and a compassion for people.  That’s the United Methodist way!
See you this Sunday!

2 Corinthians 5:11-21
11  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
12  We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.
13  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
14  For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
15  And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
17  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
18  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
19  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
20  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
21  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We are thrilled at the response to the invitation to spend the next thirty days living the Wesleyan way.  Guidebooks are still available at the church, and it is not too late to start.  Components of the project including daily devotion, small group meetings, a service project to the community, and weekly communion. Please note:  this week’s communion service in the chapel will start at 7:45am, not 8:00am, in order to work around the Vacation Bible School schedule.  
What an amazing time we are having in this year’s “Power Lab!” Vacation Bible School.  Thank you for the prayers and support you continue to give the many volunteers who are leading many children on this thrilling, faith-filled adventure.  Many of you have commented that this is the biggest and best Vacation Bible School St. Paul’s has seen in many years.  Thank you for being a part of it!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why Are You a Methodist?

June 4, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Every family has a smart-alecky relative, and mine is my cousin Ferdie.  A recent convert to United Methodism, he is a new member at the church I served in Tampa and is a part of a team working on a new discipleship project.  Ferdie found out about our current
“What is a United Methodist?” sermon series and sent me the following e-mail:
“You forgot a sermon title:  ‘One Who Meets in Committees’”
Joking aside, he’s not too far from the truth.  Among the many hallmarks of the Methodist movement is the intentional way that the church is organized and ordered for fully effective ministry.  Perhaps as a response to the backlash in the early days of this country against anything that remotely resembled a king or monarch, early American Methodists stressed the sharing of ministry and the decentralization of power in its polity.  It remains an important attribute of the denomination to this day.  


As we prepare for our 150th Anniversary later this summer, the History Committee has been doing an excellent job organizing numerous archival materials.  Recently they uncovered and shared with me a wonderful item from 1979:  a carefully preserved and beautifully framed sermon originally preached by the Rev. Bob D. Davis, who pastored this church from 1977 to 1986.   He is also one of the ministers who will be joining us this summer to preach on July 27, as part of our sesquicentennial festivities.
The sermon is titled, “14 Reasons Why I Am a United Methodist,” and was preached on April 29, 1979.  What has caught my attention lately is the final reason, #14:
“14.  The United Methodist Church is organized. Someone has said, “The United Methodist Church is organized to beat the devil.”  Literally, this is true.  Proper planning pays its rewards, poor planning its rewards. The United Methodist Church is organized to do the job.  It is not meetings alone that make the difference but rather people meeting and planning together.  Far better to be in a Church organized “to beat the devil” than to be in a Church disorganized which the devil defeats.  History has taught The United Methodist Church there is no substitute for wise planning which involves laity and clergy.  And when people do their part, and do their best, they need not worry that the Gift of the Holy Spirit will be there to nurture and bless them.”
Rev. Davis’ statement echoes the words of Wesley himself, who underscored the critical importance of order and discipline in the church in order to accomplish its mission. He said this most forcefully in a sermon preached in 1746:
What is the end of all ecclesiastical order?  Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God, and to build them up in his fear and love?  Order, then is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not, it is nothing worth.

Join us this Sunday for worship as we continue our sermon series called “What is a Methodist?” with a celebration of what it means to be part of an ordered, global, connectional system.  The sermon is titled “One Who Connects with Others” and is based on Jethro’s advise to Moses in Exodus 18.  
You will also want to keep the Iowa Annual Conference in your prayers as it gathers this week in Ames for several days of gathering, praying, organizing, and planning for the Annual Conference.  I and your two lay delegates, Mary Jo Carnine and Marilyn Brubaker, will be joining several hundred Methodists around the state for this important time. Please pray for the Bishop, the Cabinet, the Conference leadership, and all the delegates as we gather for “holy conferencing.”


We had a tremendous response to last Sunday’s invitation to begin a thirty-day journey of living the Methodist way.  All of the guidebooks were picked up last Sunday, so we have made more available here in the church office.  The book offers daily scripture readings and excerpts from several of Wesley’s most noted sermons, including:
The Almost Christian
            On Charity
            Working Out Our Own Salvation
            The Marks of the New Birth
            The Duty of Constant Communion
There are also instructions for the mid-week communion service here at the church and the call to serve the community in some way during this month.
And as I shared with you last Sunday, the most important feature of this month-long exercise is that you do it with other people, in the true spirit of the Wesley class meetings. Since the devotions don’t start until Monday, you are to spend this week finding others who will take the journey with you.  I am very pleased that many of you have already organized yourselves into small groups and committed to doing this together.  You will find this to be an enriching, powerful experience.
This is a wonderful time to celebrate being United Methodist, and a great time to be the church.  See you Sunday!
Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Exodus 18:13-27

13  The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening.
14  When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’
15  Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God.
16  When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’
17  Moses” father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good.
18  You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
19  Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God;
20  teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do.
21  You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
22  Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.
23  If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’
24  So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
25  Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.
26  And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.
27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.